I started first grade at the ripe old age of 6. Way back then there was no such thing as Kindergarten, they just threw you right into the classroom. In Arizona if your birthday is before December 31st you could start school at the age of 5, my birthday is in January so I had to wait another whole year. I was so excited, for many reasons. First, I loved to learn. Even though I couldn’t read yet I would spend hours combing through the World Book Encyclopedias we had at home, looking at the pictures. Second, I could make new friends. Ones that didn’t know my sister. Third, I would be out of the house, away from my mother for 8 hours a day! Growing up, I remember talking with other kids and they would either laugh at me or ask me to “say that again”. Most adults would just walk away giving me a sad look. I was quite confused by this so away from home I barely talked.
The first day my teacher, Mrs. Woods, had each one of us stand up and tell the others our name and one thing about ourselves. As I listened to the other kids I ran all sorts of things through my head. Should I tell the class I loved to ride my bike? Or perhaps I could tell them our family had a dog? It was hard to decide. When it came to my turn I said: “My name is Valerie and I love to ride my bike”. All the kids started laughing at me. I turned and ran crying from the room. When the teacher caught up with me she just hugged me for what seemed like a very long time. She then took me back into the room and scolded the kids for being cruel. She told them I had a speech problem and the school was going to help me with it.
A speech problem? I never heard that before. On the way home that day a carried a note from Mrs. Woods for my parents to read. I was petrified. My sister, who was four years older than me, was always bringing home notes and my Dad would yell at her and send her to our room. The look on my mothers face when I handed it to her would have killed me if it had the power. When she read it she didn’t look angry or say one word to me. I felt relief. The next morning she drove me to school and we went to the principal’s office. There she told the principal, Mrs. Reinche. that they knew I had a speech problem but they thought it would correct itself as I got older. My mother and sister always spoke baby talk to me since I was born and thought it was hilarious that I talked this way. I can still visualize the look on the principal’s face. She told my mother “We will handle this” and pointed to the door. After she left Mrs. Reinche told me I would be going to speech therapy 3 times a week at the school and it wouldn’t be long before I could speak correctly.
I loved going for the therapy. It was one on one with the therapist and we played “games” and she taught me phonics, helping me to pronounce each word correctly by sounding them out. In class, we were learning to read by using the “Fun with Dick and Jane” series. If you don’t know what that is it was just repetitive words over and over again. Like “See Dick run, run Dick run”. You were learning to read by memory. Since I was learning phonics in therapy I was learning how to sound out the words, and this gave me a great advantage. Once I was able to speak in an understandable way I had enough confidence to stand and read to the class instead of being passed over. I read so well that Mrs. Woods started sending me home with second-grade level books. I would read them and bring them back then she and I would talk about them. She also helped me with my writing and by the end of the school year, I was writing stories.
One of the best things was I no longer got laughed at. I made great friends and I loved school. I was reading third-grade level books by the end of the year and I discovered I loved to write. Using my imagination and writing stories help get me through my very unpleasant childhood. I did have to take a refresher therapy class for my third-grade year, but I didn’t mind. There are still, to this day, some words I have trouble pronouncing. Even so, I am glad I don’t have to hear “can you say that again?’ from others.
I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.