By Suzanne L. Dailey, Central Bucks, Elementary Staff Development
My story begins by flying cross-country, being a contestant on Wheel of Fortune, and winning $12,600. That’s a pretty good story, right? It certainly is, but it is not the one I want to tell you. When the wheel stopped spinning and the cameras stopped rolling, the real story begins…
Leaving Sony Studios, my excitement is so intense that I realize I forgot to take the majority of the belongings I brought with me. When I return to reclaim these items, I am greeted at the security gate by Lewis, an employee who will take me back to the set on his golf cart.
Lewis accelerates quickly and I learn that he is a happy, energetic gentleman, proudly wearing his Wheel of Fortune t-shirt and all-access badge. With hands waving and eyes shining he exclaims, “Suzanne, I saw the whole show. You were so fun to watch!” His enthusiasm is amazing, but his volume lowers before he asks, “You said you are a teacher, right?”
“Yes,” I reply.
“Do you ever work with students with special learning needs?”
“At times, yes.”
“OK then. You and I are going to take the long way back to get your things. I want to tell you a story.”
We zoom around Culver City Sony Studios, catching glimpses of behind-the-scenes Hollywood action that are foreign to my suburban eyes. Lewis slows the cart a bit and looks at me.
“When I was five years old, I was adopted from a Reservation. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t write. Things were hard. Really hard. I never went to school before and when my parents finally got me there, I couldn’t do a lot of the things the other kids could do.” As Lewis shares what happened at least 60 years ago, tears quietly build in the corners of his eyes as he looks off into the cloudless, blue, California sky.
“Nobody could figure me out, but they knew something was wrong with me. That’s how they said it, too. They said that something was wrong with me.”
Lewis pauses to take a deep breath before sharing, “But then. Then, I met my third grade teacher and she held my shoulders, looked into my eyes and said, ‘Lewis, there is magic in you and I am going to find it.’”
After a long pause and a deep breath he continues. “So she worked with me. A lot. She kept reminding me that she promised to find the magic, and she never gave up. Never once. You know what she figured out? That I had dyslexia, and that was something not many people talked about back then. So after she learned more about dyslexia, she figured out how to teach me how to read and write! And then guess what? She made sure that my fourth grade teacher could teach me the way I learned, and then my fifth grade teacher.”
Lewis’ tears can no longer be held within the corners of his eyes. They silently gleam in the glorious, golden, Hollywood sunshine.
The golf cart stops. In the distance I see lunch being delivered to the set of The Goldbergs, which would normally thrill this small-town Pennsylvania girl, but I can’t fathom looking away from Lewis’ wise brown eyes.
“Look at me now, Suzanne. Look at me now!” (there go his waving hands again!) “Here I am driving this golf cart around Sony Studios for Wheel of Fortune, making plenty of money, meeting wonderful people, and I’ve connected myself with others in the business. I’m doing everything I’ve always wanted to do. In California! In Hollywood!” He takes a moment and continues, “And it’s because of my third grade teacher. She found the magic in me that nobody else could.”
I immediately find myself hugging someone I met less than 5 minutes ago whispering, “Thank you. Thank you, Lewis. Thank you for sharing this with me.” We dry our eyes, share a comforting smile, and I continue, “As teachers, we need to hear stories like yours because we often don’t know the impact we make on our students. As public teachers, we get criticized often, and when that happens, it is so easy to lose sight of what matters most. Lewis, I promise to go home and share this story with my colleagues who work hard to find the magic in their students.”
“Please tell them. And tell them I say thank you.”
“I promise you I will, Lewis. And you know what? What just happened in this golf cart is a million times better than anything that happened in that Wheel of Fortune studio.”
One of my favorite authors Glennon Doyle says, “Teachers are the first responders, the front line, the disconnection detectives. What you do in those classrooms when no one is watching is our best hope.”
We are teachers. We are hard-working teachers. We are hard-working, dedicated teachers that need to be reminded that our work matters. Our tired eyes may not see the proof of our work and dedication as often as we would like, but it is there if we look for it.
And if we look close enough, we may even find some undiscovered magic.
Credit: The Joyful Teacher