Starting School

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1756, acrylic painting

Q: This hearing thing, it had to affect you. What happened, when you started school?

ReeL: These things showed up early, as soon as i started school.

In kindergarten, the teacher suggested I go to remedial summer school for kids that might be having problems going into first grade. She saw I was having some problems but not sure what was going on.

Q: But the teacher must have  seen signs you were smart as well.

ReeL: I don’t know. Fortunately, the summer school was all mixed-grade classrooms where the other side of the room was two grades ahead, so in our case, it was a group of third graders taught by the same teacher.

Reading texts were projected on the front wall because there weren’t any books.  The teacher noticed I was reading all the third grade top group’s stuff, that I was turning my chair around to see that side of the room and read the projections.  I was completely bored with the stuff I was supposed to be doing.

My teacher asked me what I was doing. I said I was reading the third grade’s stories. She asked if I wanted to do the questions and answers, too, instead of what I was doing. I said yes, because anything seemed better than what I was supposed to be doing, so I began doing the third-grade work.

One day about the time she asked that, I was hanging around after school in this empty classroom, and this older kid comes in, says he’s in fourth grade and challenges me to this sort of math duel: he had a deck of flash cards with simple arithmetic problems with the answers on the back. So he set the deck on the floor and we’d compete for who would get the right answer first, by who wrote the answer down first on a blackboard.

I was big for my age so he thought I was some older kid he’d never seen before, maybe a third-grader. Even so, I could tell from his manner that he expected to win this duel fairly easily.  Mind you, these were flash cards he’d already been working with and that I had never seen before.

On the first problem, I get the answer first. He’s visibly upset. On the second one, he doesn’t even get the right answer. I do. He asks me if I’ve seen these cards before. I say no. He gets more intense, determined to win. I end up beating him every single time. He’s incredulous and more than a bit upset.

He clearly expected to win; to lose on every single card is beyond him. Then this thing happened that was sort of like what sometimes happens when two boys fight: it becomes a bonding thing and he wants to be buddies, which means he learns who I am, my name, and, to his astonishment, what grade I’m in.

In turns out this kid is my teacher’s son, and the cards are from some fifth grade teaching materials his mother had laying around their house. So he fully expected to cream anyone his own age, let alone someone not quite into first grade.

So that night we get a call from my teacher and the next day my mother and I and the teacher are meeting, and the teacher is saying, OK, what gives?  Your son is in my remedial first-grade summer school group but he’s doing the hardest third-grade reading lessons and creams my son in some fifth grade math problems. What’s with that?

Well, he has trouble talking.

So they see the speech thing as the big barrier. That is when she suggests that my parents keep me in regular school, but have me work with a speech specialist. We soon moved to another city.  In the elementary school I end up going to in first grade that means being in the special ed program. That’s the only way they did the speech therapy thing at that school.  That’s how I ended up in special ed for part of the day.  The rest of the day I was in the normal classroom.

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