OCTOBER 17, 2011 8:59PM

I was a 1st grade bully

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I remember 3 things about learning to read and 1 thing about trying to teach someone else.

In kindergarten I was fascinated with the idea of reading. I had two older sisters and they would read all the time. I didn't quite get it. We were learning about letters and sounds, but that wasn't reading. One day I asked my teacher when we would learn to read.  "Chris," she said, "you already know how to read!"  What?  I don't think so.  She pointed around the room where she had labeled all the classroom items; "desk", "chair", "clock".  "Those signs are the letters that tell you what everything is...D.E.S.K. that says 'desk.'"  Wait, THAT was reading?  It was my own little Helen Keller moment, when I realized that the letters made words.

Still, that didn't quite feel like reading. In the 1960s we were still in the era of Dick and Jane, or in my school, Tom and Betty.  Our first reader was the "My Little Red Story Book" and it started with a story starring Tom.  As I recall, it went thus:  Ride. Ride, Tom, ride. Ride, ride, ride!  Accompanying the text was a picture of Tom with his little red wagon.  The teacher had an oversized book she put up on an easel and pointed to the words. I knew the word "Tom" but "ride" was a little trickier.  My first guess was "run, " (we never rode in the wagons at my house, and it started with an "R.")  My teacher told me to look at the picture and think of another word that started with "R."  On the second try I got "ride," went back to me desk and finished the whole book.  I could read.

By second grade I was a pretty good reader and while my teacher read "Winnie the Pooh" to the class I would follow along in my own copy.  It was the first time I realized you could play around with the words on the page, make pictures from the words.  Now I could see language as art.

So, what does this have to do with bullying?  I was a reader, a good reader, an early reader, a voracious reader.  Who better to help a struggling reader than someone who had mastered this challenge?  My first grade teacher asked me to sit in the hall with one of my classmates and listen to her read.  This girl was blond, had glasses, and couldn't read.  She was not wealthy, in fact, probably poor.  I had no pedagological training, no supervision, and I could read.  We were a perfect match.  Of course, I could teach her.

My method consisted of one thing. Pulling her hair. If she made a mistake, I pulled her hair.  If I didn't think she was reading fast enough, or trying hard enough, I pulled her hair. This was the kind of thing that made sense to me at the time. I was used to biting, kicking, and throwing things at my brothers and sisters, pulling hair seemed pretty tame in my book. I had little patience and few techniques for dealing with frustration. My classmate bore the brunt of my failings.  Eventually she told the teacher, and my days of instruction ended.

I don't remember her name. I'm sure she stayed in our school, I might have even graduated from high school with her. She could have been any number of students who struggled, who found school hard, who felt left out. I excelled in school, I found school easy, I had a respectable circle of friends.

I sometimes think about that hallway, what it was like for her, to be sent out there with the star of the class, to be humiliated over and over again. I wish I could apologize. I wixh we could sit down with Tom and his wagon and ride, ride, ride.

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