Sunday, February 18, 2007

A great teacher

Long before I ever thought about being a teacher, long before I had any interest in educational philosophy or practice, and long before I even married or had children, my interest was captured by one teacher who can tell a great story. Actually, I think I was about eleven years old when I first read Lovey: A Very Special Child by Mary MacCracken. Later, I read her books Circle of Children and City Child. Mrs. MacCracken was a teacher in a school for emotionally distrurbed children, and later she worked with children who had learning disabilities. In all cases, she worked very closely and individually with children--she did not have a classroom of 30 children to "manage" as well as teach.

I recently finished a fourth book she wrote--Turnabout Children--in which she shares the stories of several children she taught--children who overcame learning disabilities through hard work and love and perseverance. I wrote a long post about this book a few days ago (the one blogger lost).

If you were to go looking for a teacher, you'd want to find one like Mary MacCracken. She has a heart for each child as an individual.
Few understand the courage it takes for a child to return to a place where he failed yesterday and the day before and, in all probablility, will fail again the next. I was moved and again by the bravery of these children and joyous when they realized that they could learn and be successful. I loved them without reserve.

Mrs. MacCracken set up a sort of clinic or learning center in her home, a safe place where children who needed extra help, special diagnostic testing, or intensive one-on-one attention could learn. She also closely involved parents in everything she did, because she knew that they knew their own children best. In Turnabout Children, she tells the story of a few of her young students. Their stories are touching and personal, and at the same time, representative of different types of learnings disabilites.

Interspersed throughout the book is information about diagnostic testing, ways of evaluating test results, and illustrations of how to develop individual approaches that meet the needs of each child. I'm not a huge fan of labels for children, and I know that "learning disabled" has come to be virtually meaningless. However, this book was written back in the 1980's, when a lot of our knowledge about learning disabilities was relatively new, and it had not yet become common to paste labels on children and give them drugs to keep classrooms more peaceful. Mary MacCracken, at least, was only interested in providing specialized help for those children who needed it--sometimes only for short period of time.

The end of Alice's story goes like this:

"You know what I've been thinking lately?"


"Well, what I think is that maybe the reason I was so easy to fix is that there just wasn't that much wrong with me in the first place."

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! A hundred choruses went off inside my head simultaneously. Some days I think I'm going to work forever.

I think this is good reading, whether you have any particular interest in education or not. Any one of Mary MacCracken's books will open your eyes about the individual worth of every child, and give you a glimpse of what it is possible for one dedicated teacher to accomplish. If you have a child with learning disabilities, I recommend her books even more highly.


At 4:19 AM , Blogger Poiema said...

This book suggestion came at the perfect time for me. I have one child that I suspect would bear a label if in public school. I thought I was home free after we made it over the initial reading and writing hurdles. But now we are getting into more abstract thinking (5th grade) and I am needing fresh vision for how to proceed. Thanks for the tip.

At 6:11 AM , Blogger Mother Auma said...

Oh, I read _Lovey_ several times when I was in high school!! I had forgotten about that book! She was such a sweet lady, and so good with children. I still remember the time she and her class had a discussion about the way another teacher took care of her class. The teacher had gotten sick and there had to be substitutes and the children just could not cope-- they completely lost any control they had previously maintained in the classroom. The kids in Mary's class were astute enough to pick up on the fact that the children were only good for the teacher and not for themselves. I remember being impressed that Mary MacCracken even thought to ask these emotionally disturbed children what they thought was the cause of their friends being calm and quiet when their teacher was with them, and completely chaotic when she was gone.

I will have to look for her other books. I don't know what happened to my copy of Lovey.

"Oh, Hannah, Hannah. There are many Loveys in the world.'

Not in Hannah's world."

At 3:36 AM , Blogger Headmistress, zookeeper said...

I read Lovey, A Circle of Children, and tohers. I loved them.

Others in the same category:
Dibs in Search of Self
36 Children
Lisa Bright and Dark

At 10:05 PM , Blogger JustMe said...

If these books touched your heart, read the books by Tory Hayden too. YOu will enjoy them.


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