16732 W. Loma Verde Trail
Surprise, Arizona 85387
Jimmy Gadomski was his name. His big brown eyes seemed more prominent because of his thin face and
cropped haircut. But he was just one of them. There was Willard, Mitch, Jeff and Tina. All of them were
students in my first class, my first year of teaching.
The school was an old country building in northern Ohio. It only housed kindergarten, first and second
grade. The huge oak tree in the front of the building added to its charm. In those days we had time to sit under
the tree and read a story each afternoon. Other schools were scattered in the area and we all shared one
principal. He came to our school every Tuesday.
Fresh out of college and newly married I embarked on my teaching career with my head full of theories and
philosophies on education. I had been a good student all through school and my student teaching experience
was exceptional in a school filled with professors' children. No problem. It never occurred to me that I would
ever encounter a child that couldn't learn.
The other first grade teacher was experienced and she helped me choose the basal reader set for each
reading group from the worn variety of books in the closet. After that, I was on my own! Each day I met with
three different reading groups. Day by day, the students were showing improvements. But I was not surprised
because that was the way it was supposed to be, right?
Jimmy was in the group that struggled the most. Even so, his group was in the third book of the set. The
books had floppy paper covers but soon they would be in the larger hard cover books like the other students in
the class. It was going to happen. No question about it.
Spring came before we knew it and one Tuesday I was summoned to a meeting with the principal. Entering
the room I noticed that Jimmy's mother was there with him. She had a tissue and wiped her eyes. Puzzled, I
joined them quietly.
"Pat," Mr. Bishop started. "Mrs. Gadomski wants to tell you something."
"Well you see, Jimmy is not really our son." she began softly. "He is our foster child and he has been with
us for three years. The social worker came to visit yesterday. She wanted me to tell you how surprised she was
that Jimmy wanted to sit down and read to her. And he did. He read to her."
I know that I must have looked puzzled so she continued.
"You see, this same lady told us 3 years ago that Jimmy would never learn to read.
That his IQ was too low. But you taught him to read. You did it. And I wanted to thank you."
I was stunned. What had I done? Nothing. At least nothing any different for Jimmy than for any other student in my class. Did I dare tell this grateful mother and proud principal that I didn't do anything worthy of this praise? Or maybe I had done something. I believed! I did not even consider that this child or any child had a chance to fail. What would I have done if I knew the truth about Jimmy? Would I not bother trying? No way.
It's been 35 years since that first year of teaching. Twenty five ofthose years I spent in the classroom. Knowing that I taught someone to read that first year who was labeled incapable, changed my life on many levels. I learned not to judge someone on past merits and reports but rather to form my own opinion as we work together. That applies in life not just in the classroom. I learned not to accept failure---everyone can succeed at something if you believe it can happen. I learned to value the ideas and freshness of new teachers. They come in believing they can do anything and are not tarnished by the system. Most of all I learned to savor the excitement that children feel when they realize they are reading. It is magical to watch the look on their faces when they know they have succeeded. That part never gets old.