As I reflect on the progression of my profession, what resonates throughout my being most is Sonia Nieto’s (2003) comment, “teaching as [an] autobiography”. I feel fortunate to have been able to recall why I do what I do, closely explore my story of teaching, and more fully discover another voice.
During my first year of teaching, I encountered a unique young student. I realized that after the first two weeks of school, she still had not spoken. She was a lovely and cooperative little girl, but I had not heard her voice. I began to ask around and discovered that she had spent her entire first year of school not speaking. She was now in Grade One, and I was required to teach her to read. I was terrified and puzzled. When I met with her mother, she told me that Michelle had been frightened of school but that she had finally wanted to go. I knew then that Michelle was beginning to feel as if she belonged, so I wanted her to know that she belonged not only in this place called school but also with me. I sensed that she had created a role that she was having difficulty breaking free of and that I needed to offer her a supportive way to do so. I turned to my suggested reading list from university and reintroduced myself to Sylvia Ashton Warner. Over the years, her work with Maori children has helped me to polish my own work with young children.
I decided to accept Michelle for exactly who she was. Her mother invited me for dinners, and I skied and skated with her periodically on weekends. Still Michelle, would not speak when I was present. When she laughed, she covered her face and laughed silently. By first reporting period, I struggled with how to document her reading ability as well as her knowledge in social studies and French. Because her mother and I were in close communication, she told me that Michelle could read well, so I decided to give her every appraisal in writing. She had to read everything and answer questions. I thought that I was placing this six-year old child in a dreadful predicament; however, Michelle was an extraordinary reader, and she excelled at all of the assessments I presented her.
The school year was continuing, but Michelle still was not vocal. Although I struggled inside, I chose not to demonstrate this outwardly. Instead, I consulted with speech pathologists and psychologists, and I asked them to assist me without their meeting with the child. I did not want her perceiving, nor anyone else viewing the notion, that I thought she needed fixing. The other professionals supported my handling of the situation, and they offered me suggestions, which was affirming, because my administration did not.
The Christmas concert came and went, and I still had not heard Michelle’s voice. I consulted many people during my vacation, and I again turned to my suggested reading list from university. I discovered a wealth of knowledge through a series of books by Vivian Gussin Paley. After the Christmas break, all of the primary students were invited to a pep rally that the high school basketball team was holding at our school. Older students joined with my little ones and led them to the gym. I followed. When I arrived, I noticed the mayhem that surrounded us, and I immediately panicked because I could not see where my wee ones all were. Just then, I felt this smooth little hand in mine and a soft, sweet voice that said, “I don’t know where I’m supposed to go.” I looked down and held tighter, and I asked Michelle if she would like to just stay with me. She said, “Yes.”
This is but one story by one teacher. However, I feel that this venue has given me the opportunity to see my teacher story on the page and to see how it has formed me as an educator. Professional reflection and writing has provided me with a foundation to discover that even though my educational voice is important in this world, it is just one voice. I am seeing how imperative it is for good teachers to move beyond the classroom, and I feel alive with excitement as I connect and collaborate with so many professionals engaged on this common path.