Earth date: September 7, 2020
I was one of those obnoxious, sissy girls who played with dolls and dishes when I was a child. My neighborhood was mostly boys, so they ignored me unless they needed an extra person to even up teams when they played war or cowboys, or the one baseball we owned in the whole neighborhood went into Mrs. Cowser’s back yard. She owned three fierce chihuahuas with sharp little teeth, and I could run fast.
I grew wiser as I got older and would hold out until they agreed to my terms. I made the boys super-dog, spit-in-the-dirt promise to play “school” with me in return. When it came time to keep their part of the bargain, only my brother and the two boys who lived next door kept their word.
Teaching was my career for thirty-seven years. My dream was to get my PhD in languages from UT Austin and travel the world teaching in magnificent universities, but I needed to earn some money first, so back in 1971 I accepted a teaching job. It was only for one year.
As most first-year teachers I got the classes no one else wanted. I got the sweat hogs, the remedial kids, the nineteen-year-old seniors who could not read and could barely write their names. I was shocked. I came from a literate family; I’d never met a grown person who could not read a simple sentence.
I smuggled a reading test from a graduate friend and administered it to all the students. The results were appalling. This was the early seventies, before state-wide testing and state-wide curriculum standards, but what I witnessed was a crime. Without standards and accountability, all these kids were being cheated of an education. I had to do something, so I took my dream money and enrolled in a nearby college and got my master’s degree in remedial reading. As soon as I got my textbooks, I implemented what I learned and didn’t wait for a diploma to give me permission.
I was extremely grateful when Texas Senate Bill 72 passed in 1984. It forced schools to implement the curriculum and standards we needed to give an equal opportunity to all the children. I was first in line when my school district asked for volunteers to compile a district-wide, developmental curriculum. Before then, a teacher’s only guide was the textbook assigned to the class, and only the more dedicated followed it. In classes where there was no textbook, curriculum was left to the integrity of the teacher. It was no surprise that huge gaps existed between what was being taught and when. Students who fell behind continued to do so until they gave up on the system. It is easy to complain about this now, but before 1984, there was no standardization, and children were the losers.
Do I miss not having lived my dream, teaching around the world, living the glamorous life? I think I held out for a better deal.