Place: Nora Elementary School
Mrs. Rayle…my second grade teacher…loved her…all second graders wanted to be in her class. Mrs. Rayle, the teacher that sparked and flamed the love of reading for me. Now I realized I would jump through hoops to gain Mrs. Rayle’s approval and respect. Vivid moments of time from my second grade year are burned upon my being even after fifty years. Closing my eyes I can see the arrangement of student’s desks and Mrs. Rayle’s desk. Surprisingly the desks weren’t in rows. They are in a long U shape. Blackboard in the front. Mrs. Rayle moved my desk five feet in front of the board one day because I just couldn’t see. Trip to the eye doctor and soon had glasses resting on my nose. The SRA kit sat on the shelf under the row of windows that look onto the playground where we joyously played tag, pumped our feet to reach the sky or swung across the monkey bars. SRA was a favorite part of reading time for me because I could work at my own pace. I could choose the story folder I wanted to work on and I was trusted to check my own work and move on when I felt I was ready. Empowered. Close by to the SRA kit was a wood “tree” that held cool-looking fold out paper apples. Each student had an apple with their name written on the leaf. Your apple was placed at the bottom of the tree. Your apple “climbed” up the tree when you read a book and recorded the book title and number of pages on a 3 x 5 index card. Mrs. Rayle also required a parent signature on the card. THEN when your apple reached the top of the tree you were awarded a tagboard bookworm handmade by Mrs. Rayle. She would write To: Your Name and Love: Mrs. Rayle. You even picked the color of your bookworm. Imagine my joy when I received my pink bookworm autographed by Mrs. Rayle. Other sweet reading memories from Mrs. Rayle were her read alouds. The Boxcar Children. Do I need to say more? Who as a young child did not fall in love with The Boxcar Children? Second grade was the year that began my love affair with reading that became my life work. All because of the powerful influence of Mrs. Rayle.
My parents owned their own business when I was in second grade…a bar. I lived on the north side of Indianapolis before Interstate 465 circled around the city. My family lived in an area where most fathers were lawyers, financial investors and other white collar careers…not owners of a tavern. Every Sunday my mother, brother and I attended services at our church. Following service we would pile into the car and drive to the south side of the city to clean the tavern. While the grown-ups cleaned my brother and I had a grand time pulling on beer taps at the bar, admiring different bottle shapes full of liquor, and playing the juke box with fingernail-polished coins (my dad would get those coins back when the machine was emptied). Tag and hide-and-seek was taken to a new level with all of the booths, bar stools, kitchen, bar, and beer storage room.
Writing assignment…not a clear memory but the piece of blue-lined primary paper with perfectly formed letters that made words is. The story told of my typical Sunday experience. Two red-inked lines crossed out the correctly spelled word, tavern and the word town was written above the “mistake”. As a second grader I couldn’t figure out why the word was crossed out. Town didn’t make sense. Tavern was spelled correctly. I knew I had disappointed my beloved teacher but I didn’t know why. The family laughed about it when the paper was passed around to grandparents and aunts and uncles. I didn’t understand what I had done. BUT I do know that I don’t remember any other writing experiences ( excepting for regurgitating facts for an informational text) until I reached college. That is another story.
I know Mrs. Rayle didn’t intent to birth a reluctant writer or silence a writing voice but…we as teachers are a powerful influence that can go one way or another. We can learn from both kind of experiences…I’m a better educator because of both experiences. Asking forgiveness from anyone that I unintentionally pushed backwards.