For The Slow Readers Out There: A #LessonLearned by Christine Wolf

Christine Wolf is a big time blogger. I cannot believe she is even here today. Her blog, Riding The Waves, follows the life of a woman embracing life’s transitions: changing careers, helping children to grow up, keeping a 20-year marriage alive — all while enduring Chicago’s ever-changing weather patterns.

Christine has written a middle-aged novel for readers 8-12 years old called My Life Afloat, about a 12-year-old girl from the affluent suburb of Illinois whose parents both lose their jobs in the economic crisis. After their home is sold to avoid foreclosure, they must live on a sailboat in Chicago’s Monroe Harbor. She hopes to see her book published in 2013.

It probably will happen.

And here’s why.

Not too long ago, Christine was 1 of 5 Americans to interview President Obama live during the first streaming Google+ Hangout from The White House on January 30, 2012. She asked the President how we, as a country, should speak to children about the current economic situation. The President provided some interesting answers and, at the end of the interview, he asked for a copy of her book. You know, when it comes out. How cool is that? Here’s the interview.

(Christine appears at minutes 2:15, 17:15 and 48:40):

Christine writes a weekly opinion column about happenings in Evanston, Illinois for AOL Huffpost Media’s Patch.com and you can check out her awesome website! You can LIKE her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @tinywolf1

Click on the teacher lady’s stick to see other folks who posted in this series!

• • •

For The Slow Readers Out There

My 7th grade Language Arts teacher, Carolyn Leece will forever be my all-time favorite teacher. It helped that she looked just like Carol Brady without the flippity-do-dah shoulder curls from those later Brady Bunch episodes, but Mrs. Leece’s most notable contribution to my overall development was teaching me how it is acceptable to be a slow reader.

I must have always read slowly, but in the 1970s, it never really mattered how fast the kids read in elementary school. For God’s sake, no one timed us or tracked Reading Recovery logs on us. The educational highlights of my elementary school years were mastering the Dewey Decimal system, making a mobile of the planets (including Pluto), and winning first place in the Multiplication Competition for the number eight.  Before junior high, I read all my Nancy Drew books at my own pace, lingered on every article in Seventeen Magazine (wasn’t my mom so cool to let me read that?), and lovingly absorbed my Judy Blume books without a glance at a clock.

Once I hit junior high, though, it came to light that a) I used way more Love’s Baby Soft Musky Jasmine Scent than human lungs could filter and b) my silent reading was soooooo much slower than that of my peers.

Instead of reading in small groups as we’d always done in elementary school, our 7th grade Language Arts classroom was set up in a much more “mature” fashion with orderly rows of desks facing the front of the room. A grown-up classroom for grown-up kids! In my head, I pretended I was a college girl, and I loved it.

Look how cute she is when she isn’t freaking out about talking to the President of the USA!

That is, until the day I realized how different I was from everyone else.

Mrs. Leece had pulled down the white, overhead projection screen, covering her perfectly looped, chalky script on the blackboard. “Today,” she said, smoothing her platinum bangs to the side, “we’ll be discussing the elements of the front page of a newspaper.” She laid a clear transparency over the projector’s light, displaying a smudgy image of The Chicago Tribune. Every feature was slowly circled and labeled with overhead markers in a splash of colors: The Masthead – blue. The Ears – red. Headlines – green. Bylines – black.

Then, Mrs. Leece asked us all to silently read the first five paragraphs of the first article, then raise our hands once we’d finished

When I raised my hand, I realized I was the last one to do so…by far. Kids around me rolled their eyes and snickered. Who knows how long I’d been staring, slack-jawed, at the black letters on the white screen.

As my face burned and panic rose, Mrs. Leece put her pen on the transparency.

She looked directly at me and switched off the projector’s light (leaving the fan on, of course).  Everyone was riveted. And then she said, directly to me, in front of the entire class, “You know what? I’m just like you.”

I stared.

“I savor every word.”

I blinked.

“We both appreciate lingering on words, don’t we?”

I remembered to breathe.

“Good for you,” she concluded, then went back to the lesson.

One week later, Mrs. Leece asked me if I’d like to babysit for her son.

I was stunned. If the Language Arts teacher thought enough of me to leave me in charge of her own child, she’d probably meant what she’d said. She didn’t just use words to boost my self-esteem; she reinforced her message from an entirely different angle. Her multidimensional approach didn’t have modern-day monikers like Whole Language or Multiple Intelligence Theory, but she left a lasting impression on me. She gave me the message in 1980 that it’s okay to be who you are, and I’ve been sharing that message ever since with anyone who, like me, does things just a little bit differently.

Have you ever had a panicky moment that was quickly and magically transformed?

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22 responses to “For The Slow Readers Out There: A #LessonLearned by Christine Wolf

  1. great story! my 7th grade LA teacher sounds like the same person – she reached me like no other teacher before had…. love the article. This past year I reached out to her and found her after 38 years! I now teach 7th grade LA and roles are reversed. Good luck on the book – I can’t wait to read it.

  2. I’m so glad you are here for me today! Family is already in town for my son’s bar mitzvah, and I so appreciate this fabulous post! I wish there were more Mrs. Leece’s out there so that every child might feel dignity in the classroom rather than shame. Have a great weekend!

  3. Love when teachers can turn what could have been a negative into a positive for kids.

  4. Great story! Sign of a good teacher, noticing something like that and being able to react, on the spot, to turn it into a learning experience. Not only for you, but I’m sure the rest of the class learned something that day as well. Good luck getting your book published!!

  5. Pingback: My First Guest Post! | Riding The Waves

  6. Thank you very much. Fingers crossed!

  7. Fantastic story. I adore the tack that teacher took . . . I used to speed through stories so that I could raise my hand first, and how ridiculous is that? I was your opposite, in a rush to “win” and forgetting the main point of reading, which is the connect and learn.

    Nice to meet you here.

  8. Christine, ever read so slowly you couldn’t remember what you were reading? That’s me. I have to go back and reread a lot. Something has to be extremely interesting for me to read it.

    • All the time, David. All the time. And, when someone hands me a book or an article to read, I always have to preface it with, “Don’t expect this back anytime soon.” It’s not that I’m lazy. I just don’t devour things as quickly as most. I’m married to an attorney who’s the complete opposite. He’s a big-picture guy and I’m a detail gal. Maybe that’s what makes us work.

  9. oh my gosh… how cool… What a great teacher to give you props for your slow reading.. :) And she is right! You most likely absorbed so much more than the fast readers.. I read fast, and I always have to read twice… :)

    Love this lesson.. the next time I read something, I am going to do a “Christine Wolf” and savor the words!!!

    Have a great weekend..

  10. WOW! What a powerful story, and what an introduction, too, Renee!

    I can’t think of a better way that situation could have been handled – thank goodness for teachers like Carolyn Leece! This story gave me chills.

    As for the question -and it’s a great one- I’m struggling to think of a specific example, but I know there have been times when I’ve cried over something, only to have a loved one make a funny comment that makes me step outside of my self, and pretty soon we’re both hysterically laughing. I love those moments!

  11. I’m still trying to find Carolyn Leece to thank her personally. She was an incredible woman. For any teachers out there, know that the good work you do lasts forever. I’m proof.

  12. Faith Ertischek

    This is really powerful. I, too, am a very, VERY slow reader. Like David, I sometimes have had to re-read because by time I reach the end of the sentence, I forgot the beginning! (But that was only in my boring social studies or accounting textbooks!) I now enjoy being a slow reader because a great book lasts me longer. I do, in fact, savor every word. I have no choice – I couldn’t skim (and have any understanding) even if my life depended on it! As a parent of a child with learning disabilities, this is a wonderful lesson. I hope that as she continues through school, she will also have wonderful teachers who not only let her know that it’s okay to be slower, but lets others know it as well. I can’t wait to read your book with my child!

  13. “Reinforced in another way” –WOW. That is my take away for the day!

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