Sunday, March 4, 2012

Reading: A Fire Is Ignited

    Education is a word I have valued throughout my entire life. Not because my family has been the “Straight A Valedictorians,” but because this was something lacking in our lives.  My mother did not finish high school because she got pregnant with me, and my father dropped out his senior year with four months left to go. Therefore, even as a small child, I was taught to believe that education would be the one thing that could save you from a life like the one my parents faced.
    The hardships, struggles and financial abyss caused daily worry lines in my parents’ faces.  My mother was responsible for caring for the house, and making the little money coming in, work to fill our stomachs.  Daddy worked many different jobs to help Mom with the responsibility of keeping us fed and clothed. He was a garbage man, maintenance worker for the city of Cabool, mowed lawns, cleaned city hall at night, and many other odd jobs that allowed us to survive. He worked so hard to provide, and we never went hungry.  I know he was exhausted when he came home at night. Yet, he always found time for a game of ball tag, Dr. Seuss readings, star gazing or dancing with “his girls.”
     Both Mom and Dad were very adamant about learning, and going to school. My parents knew from experience that it was the lack of education that held them back from reaching their dreams. Therefore, with the pressures of living in a family where brains were of great value, I was raised to learn. I started reading at three-years-old, and each day my mother would sit down and make me go through difficult words, until I could sound things out on my own. I am so thankful for this connection as a child, because it helped to spark an interest that would one day become a passion, and a driving force in my life. Reading not only showed me a life free from poverty, but it showed me a world of possibilities, gave me hope and helped pull me through the toughest times in my life.
    I faced one of those times of terrible trials at the age of seven. It was during this year when my loving father was killed in a train collision while I was at school. I remember the pain, fear and hurt that filled every part of my being, and I also remember reading until the tears quit falling. I would start to cry, or get really scared, and I would find a quiet, closed in space and pick up a book. I would start to read through the tears, until the story carried me away to someplace less painful. I know this is why I still love books with happy endings, because those stories always spread a warmth through me that lasts for a long time.
    The three weeks I spent at home after the loss of my hero, my daddy, were a blur. However, the exception was the time spent reading anything within reach. I know this helped prepare me for my future, but it also helped to create a bond with something that could give me a reprieve from the pain, even if it was only for a little while.  
    Now, as an English, teacher one of my passions is to get kids to connect to reading. Maybe those who have had me for a teacher, now understand why I was constantly promoting reading for pleasure.  I watch some of the students in my life going through terrible struggles, and learning to cope is difficult. However, if they had a story to whisk them away for just a few minutes, or a piece of literature that could give them hope I know their lives could be better. I also believe the unhealthy choices my students have chosen; drugs, alcohol, gangs, fighting, and running away are all the things that will bring them further down in their lives. Reading will bring them up, give them something to hold onto, and it improves their chances of success in life.
    In the posts to come, I will discuss how the passion for reading, life and learning was further intensified by a teacher who pulled me through it all. Mrs. Frederick was my teacher during that tumultuous year in my life. She became the woman who taught me to love, fight for my beliefs, and push myself to higher heights. She stoked a fire reading had started, and now that fire has engulfed my life and my career.