Sometimes, life can be absurd. Take the day my principal called me into his office.
“There aren’t enough students in your department.”
This I knew as my journalism and communications classes were rather small.
“We can’t pay two teachers if there aren’t enough students.” He clasped his hands together on the desk. Still, I wasn’t worried. After all, I had a degree in communications and I’d been a reporter for almost 15 years in TV and print. My peer in the department did have a background in video editing, though he’d been an English teacher. But, of course, he had seniority.
“You have two choices.”
Uh oh! I got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“You can move to another school in the district or you can be a reading teacher.”
I leaned back in my chair. “Reading? I can’t teach that!”
He spread his hands. “Then you’ll have to go somewhere else.”
“I have a history cert,” I said hopefully. “I love history!”
“Coaches teach history,” he said as if that statement made sense.
“You don’t understand…”
“That’s all I can offer you right now. You’ll have to get a reading certification. That’s about 15 credits, but you can teach on an emergency cert right now.”
He stared at me.
“You’ll figure it out.”
I liked my school, despite the Title I issues that identified my students as children who lived below the poverty line. But how could I teach reading?
When I was in elementary school, no one tossed around words like dyslexia. If you couldn’t read well you were just stupid and lazy. I was the offspring of parents who both had college degrees. I watched my dad get his master’s when I was eight and my mother was the only women in our neighborhood who had an education and a job. Every morning they read the now-defunct Newark News at the breakfast table and the New York Times during cocktail hour. The West Essex Tribune was also part of their repertoire. Along with my brother and sister, they both loved to read books.
But, for me, the thought of reading for pleasure seemed absurd. I struggled through fifth grade before my parents actually noticed. A D in Social Studies sounded the alarm bells and my parents placed me in a summer school class called Work and Study Skills. There I learned to take notes and be more organized, though I don’t recall anyone ever saying I was dyslexic, nor being tested for reading problems.
Here’s the thing about dyslexia. It looks different depending on who has it. Like autism, it’s a broad spectrum. Some sufferers will never read well. Others have barely noticeable quirks. I’m of the low-level variety. My spelling sucks. I get easily distracted. I turn certain letters around. (I can’t tell the difference between a lower-case d and b if they’re in an unfamiliar word.) I have trouble when I’m stressed distinguishing right from left, which my crew-mates in football found hilarious when, as the referee, I would signal first down or penalties in the wrong direction. Sometimes, I struggle to put the right shoe on the correct foot. And I’m pretty bad with numbers. I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked when one of my news directors called me into his office to inquire about why I kept reading the sports scores wrong every night on the news. After that, I had to write my scores out in words. Yes, it took a lot of extra time which had me sliding onto the news set seconds before the red camera light blinked on, but at least I had a better chance of getting the scores right.
As you can imagine, I felt like a complete fraud the day I stood in front of a reading class for the first time. My students were mostly freshman who read between the kindergarten and sixth-grade levels. My job was to figure out why and make them ready for high school. Sometimes their issues were physical. They had undiagnosed hearing or vision problems. Sometimes they were kids who didn’t speak English. Others had various learning and emotional disabilities. Many came from homes where there were no books or magazines or pencils or paper and where they never witnessed an adult reading anything.
I began taking classes to get my reading certification, and the day I learned about dyslexia was shocking and wonderful. Wonderful, because there was finally an explanation.
I looked back over the adjustments I’d made to improve my reading skills over the years. When I prepared to head off to college the first time, my older brother’s words rang in my head. “You’re to stupid to go to college,” he said. “I bet you 20 bucks you’ll flunk out the first semester.”
Since I would have rather been hit by a truck than let my brother win, I went to work. Through trial and error, I learned that I could never stay up all night to pass an exam. I had to get a good night’s sleep. I had to study for short periods of time every day, beginning a week before a big test. I couldn’t listen to music or be around noise, or I’d get distracted. I had to take lots of notes and always go to class.
I taught reading for about five years and I often pointed out to my students that I had a reading disability. “If I can do it, so can you,” I’d say.
And then some of them would sit up a little straighter in their seats and nod. Turns out believing you can learn to read is the most important step you can take.
The past and present collide when a tenacious reporter seeks information on an eleventh century magician…and uncovers more than she bargained for.
February 2, 2022
In 1939, archeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate bead work, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine hundred years earlier, was a magician.
Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on The Magician shows he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover The Magician’s origin carries her back to a time when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.
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