Tell us about The Teacher Who Changed My Life – and why.
I’m a person who constantly reads. My usual pattern is to read several books at a time. And all of this is possible in large part because of my teacher at Wogaman Elementary School in Dayton, Ohio, Norma George. When I started the first grade, I had difficulty reading. It seemed to come easily for my classmates but I struggled. My struggles led to being teased and made fun of because I was in the “slow group”. As a result, I became a discipline problem. I still recall disrupting class and harassing other students because of the teasing and my embarrassment.
Apparently, our classes were overcrowded, because shortly into the year a new first grade teacher came to our school. Teachers chose students from their existing classes to form this new class. I was probably the first one my teacher offered. This new teacher was fresh from college and very idealistic yet firm. Her name was Norma George.
One of the memories I have of her was when we decided to surprise her with a birthday party. In those days, we could go home for lunch but we stayed at school to decorate the room and arrange the surprise. We were so excited and quite animated. When Mrs. George returned to the room, we yelled “Happy Birthday” as she walked through the door. She thanked us all and then informed us that we were so noisy that she could hear us all the way down the hall. So, we had to line up and receive a swat with her paddle—and then a hug. Then we had the party!
I honestly don’t recall much about what she did to help me read but I do know that by the time I had completed that year, the reading assessment I took indicated I was reading at a third-grade level!
A highlight of my ministry was the first time I returned to preach at the church where I grew up in Dayton. As I stood in the pulpit and saw many people dear to me, I saw Mrs. George sitting there. I shared the story about her role in my learning to read. When the service was over she remarked that she didn’t think I remembered. I replied, “Mrs. George, I couldn’t read.” She responded with a chuckle, “Baby I know it but I was determined that you would.” Thank you Mrs. George!