Mrs. Browley, my kindergarten teacher reprimanded me lots of times every day. My speech impediment had me mispronouncing many words and she repeatedly corrected me. I faced other challenges, too. I couldn’t tie my shoes, tell time, write numbers or letters—not even those in my name.
Mother hadn’t prepared me for kindergarten. She didn’t see the value for children’s books and had never read to Robin or me. In fact, there weren’t any books for kids in our house. Mother didn’t show us how to do anything academic. She didn’t teach us the spelling of our names, or how to hold a pencil, or how to recite the alphabet, or how to count.
Sometime during the first week at Thomas Edison, just after the morning bell rang, I picked up the fat, black pencil and obeyed Mrs. Browley’s name writing instructions.
“That’s not the correct hand,” she said from across the room.
She could’ve been speaking to any one of the twenty-eight kids in my class. I knew how many kids there were because Mother had said that in my class of twenty-eight, another boy and I were the only students who wrote with our left hands. Mother thought left handedness was a sign of intelligence. She said Einstein was a genius and he was left handed, but perhaps Mrs. Browley didn’t see it that way.
“Pam!” Mrs. Browley snapped. She hurried across the room with a ruler pointed in my direction, ignoring the curious and startled stares of her class of students, and she leaned over me, smelling of Vicks VaporRub, with black-framed glasses balancing on her nose, and her eyes looking ten times larger than they really were. “Hold your pencil with your right hand.”
I dropped my pencil like it had stung me and grabbed it with my other hand.
“That’s more like it. Now, keep it there,” she said sternly.
All throughout winter, bug-eyed Mrs. Browley tried reforming me into a right handed person without success. Shortly before recess one afternoon, she confronted me with a ruler held high in the air, and she slapped the knuckles of the hand in which I grasped the fat pencil. “You will not”—Her jaw trembled and her pale complexion turned a deep red—“write with your left hand!”
No one had ever struck me, not even Mother, and I dropped the pencil, swallowed hard to stop the tears forming in my eyes, and stared down at the worksheet on my desk. I knew I was bad. “I don’t know what hand to use. Which one’s right?”
“What did you say?”
My lips trembled and my voice had little strength. “Which one’s right?”
“Right, not white. Pam, pick up your pencil with your right hand.”
By natural inclination, I picked it up with my left.
“Not that one!”
I switched hands and clutched the fat pencil clumsily.
“Left handedness is a sign of retardation. Just look at your letters.” She continued her scolding in a voice loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. “Pam, your letters are backwards.” Her ruler pointed to the place at the top of the page. “Just look at this P in your name.”
A lump formed in my throat and I kept my eyes on the worksheet in front of me.
Her voice softened. “Are you watching?”
“You write P like this.” Holding my right hand clutched around the fat pencil, she directed my hand and wrote P in the correct direction. “As it stands, your name is backwards. You read from left to right and you write from left to right,” she said, still guiding my hand. “Your name’s not Map,” she said, shaking her head in disgust. “Do you want to be called Map? Map is not a name. It’s a thing.”
I wanted to tell her she was wrong, tell her what Mother had said about Einstein, but that meant I’d have to speak again and she wouldn’t understand, and who wanted to speak when they had to repeat themselves? So I just shook my head.
Excerpt from Pamela Koefoed’s new memoir, JoyRide: Life, Death and Forgiveness.More about the book: http://joyridebook.com © Copyright 2014 Pamela Koefoed
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