Miss Hardy

Miss Hardy

From A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Miss Hardy

There comes that mysterious meeting in life when someone acknowledges who we are and what we can be, igniting the circuits of our highest potential.

Rusty Berkus

I began life as a learning-disabled child. I had a distortion of vision called dyslexia. Dyslexic children often learn words quickly, but don’t know they don’t see them the way other people do. I perceived my world as a wonderful place filled with these shapes called words and developed a rather extensive sight vocabulary that made my parents quite optimistic about my ability to learn. To my horror, I discovered in the first grade that letters were more important than words. Dyslexic children make them upside down and backwards, and don’t even arrange them in the same order as everybody else. So my first-grade teacher called me learning-disabled.

She wrote down her observations and passed them on to my second-grade teacher over the summer so she could develop an appropriate bias against me before I arrived. I entered the second grade able to see the answers to math problems but having no idea what the busy work was to reach them, and discovered that the busy work was more important than the answer. Now I was totally intimidated by the learning process, so I developed a stutter. Being unable to speak up assertively, unable to perform normal math functions and arranging letters inappropriately, I was a complete disaster. I developed the strategy of moving to the back of each class, staying out of sight and, when apprehended and called upon, muttering or mumbling, “I d-d-don’t kn-kn-know.” That sealed my fate.

My third-grade teacher knew before I arrived that I couldn’t speak, write, read or do mathematics, so she had no real optimism toward dealing with me. I discovered malingering as a basic tool to get through school. This allowed me to spend more time with the school nurse than the teacher or find vague reasons to stay home or be sent home. That was my strategy in the third and fourth grades.

Just as I was about to die intellectually, I entered the fifth grade and God placed me under the tutelage of the awesome Miss Hardy, known in the western United States as one of the most formidable elementary school teachers ever to walk the Rocky Mountains. This incredible woman, whose six-foot-frame towered above me, put her arms around me and said, “He’s not learning-disabled, he’s eccentric.”

Now, people view the potential of an eccentric child far more optimistically than a plain old disabled one. But she didn’t leave it there. She said, “I’ve talked with your mother and she says when she reads something to you, you remember it almost photographically. You just don’t do it well when you’re asked to assemble all the words and pieces. And reading out loud appears to be a problem, so when I’m going to call on you to read in my class, I’ll let you know in advance so you can go home and memorize it the night before, then we’ll fake it in front of the other kids. Also, Mom says when you look something over, you can talk about it with great understanding, but when she asks you to read it word for word and even write something about it, you appear to get hung up in the letters and stuff and lose the meaning. So, when the other kids are asked to read and write those worksheets I give them, you can go home and under less pressure on your own time do them and bring them back to me the next day.”

She also said, “I notice you appear to be hesitant and fearful to express your thoughts and I believe that any idea a person has is worth considering. I’ve looked into this and I’m not sure it will work, but it helped a man named Demosthenes—can you say Demosthenes?”

“D-d-d-d . . .”

She said, “Well, you will be able to. He had an unruly tongue, so he put stones in his mouth and practiced until he got control of it. So I’ve got a couple of marbles, too big for you to swallow, that I’ve washed off. From now on when I call on you, I’d like you to put them in your mouth and stand up and speak up until I can hear and understand you.” And, of course, supported by her manifest belief in and understanding of me I took the risk, tamed my tongue, and was able to speak.

The next year I went on to the sixth grade, and to my delight, so did Miss Hardy. So I had the opportunity to spend two full years under her tutelage.

I kept track of Miss Hardy over the years and learned a few years ago that she was terminally ill with cancer. Knowing how lonely she would be with her only special student over 1,000 miles away, I naively bought a plane ticket and traveled all that distance to stand in line (at least figuratively) behind several hundred other of her special students—people who had also kept track of her and had made a pilgrimage to renew their association and share their affection for her in the latter period of her life. The group was a very interesting mix of people—3 U.S. Senators, 12 state legislators and a number of chief executive officers of corporations and businesses.

The interesting thing, in comparing notes, is that three-fourths of us went into the fifth grade quite intimidated by the educational process, believing we were incapable, insignificant and at the mercy of fate or luck. We emerged from our contact with Miss Hardy believing we were capable, significant, influential people who had the capacity to make a difference in life if we would try.

H. Stephen Glenn

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