Personal Stories

The Teacher Who Changed Everything

By: Patricia Polacco

I remember one day he asked me to stay after to wash blackboards. Now this wasn't a punishment. This was a pleasure, because we all adored him. And while I was washing the blackboard, I'll never forget this, he put on My Fair Lady and he asked me to make numbers and letters with this wet sponge. And I did. And I think that is where the code showed up. That's when he realized I couldn't do it. And that I wasn't translating and reading, that something was wrong.

I remember he came up to me. His hand went in the center of his back. And as I'm telling you this, I swear to God, I can still feel the warmth of his hands. And he slid down next to me and said, "Oh, honey! I think you have something that has a name." He said, "You feel dumb, don't you?"

And I remember just bursting into tears and wanting to run away, because of all people, I wanted him to like me, and I thought if he knew I was dumb, he wouldn't like me anymore. And instead, he opened the world up. He paid out of his own pocket for a specialist to work with me — and this was before we had reading specialists like we do now.

And I can't tell you what method worked. We did colored acetates. We did balance boards. We did literally physical exercise, M.C. Escher paintings. You name it, we did it. But I will never forget the day that I could look at something on a piece of paper or in a book, get a mental image and something would come out of my mouth that was the same thing. This was a miracle! So I said one word and it was right. Then pretty soon it was a sentence – it was right. Pretty soon a paragraph. And then finally, an entire page. So he changed everything for me.