May Inspired2Educate Winner

James Robertson, Adjunct History professor
Montgomery County Community College
Blue Bell, Pennsylvania

Growing up, I was very similar to many impressionable children who grow up wanting to be firemen, policemen, doctors or soldiers. These are life goals, which have no basis in reality or even sometimes in common sense, chosen strictly out a perception of them being exciting . One thing all these occupations have in common is the desire to help people

When I was in fourth grade, I was struggling academically because of many factors. I was borderline dyslexic. I had a mild condition of what we know today as ADHD. Additionally, I had an uncorrected vision problem. Because the teacher sat everybody by alphabetical order, I was forced to sit in the back of the room, where because of my height and vision difficulty I could not see the blackboard. My teacher chose to ignore all of these factors and wanted me declared to be dull normal and forced to repeat the fourth grade. This was not acceptable to my parents.

The Principal decided to take this situation and go another direction. He asked the school’s reading specialist and a trained psychologist to sit down and find out what was happening in my world. Miss Alma Ash was a young energetic and dedicated teacher who really worked well with students. She immediately saw the need for me to get glasses to facilitate my seeing the blackboard. She was able to ascertain that my reading deficiencies centered on the fact that the required reading was not motivating me or interesting to me. This was compounded by the fact that I had an attention deficit. Miss Ash explained to me that as a student I could not just do what I liked but I had to learn to like what I had to do. She probed my reading difficulties and determined that if she could find something that I liked maybe she could get me to read books about those subjects to supplement the required reading. The Disney Corporation had just introduced the Life of Davy Crockett to the American audience. I told Miss Ash that I was interested in the lives of historical people. She got me a library card for the Philadelphia Free Library and she provided books on a children’s biographical series. These I attacked voraciously until I read everyone in the series. She instilled in me the love of reading which could transport me to times in the past. To attack the structural reading problem she worked on ways I could compensate for my reading problem. Since reading out loud was a major problem for me, she directed the teacher not to have me read orally so I was not subjected to ridicule.

Within one year, my reading level was at slightly higher than grade level and my IQ tests revealed that I was not dull normal. Miss Ash believed in me when everyone else in my school did not. She encouraged me, guided me and helped me tackle problems that if not corrected would have doomed me for life. Some people will say all she did was do her job. Miss Ash molded my opinion of educators as miracle workers who do what they do because of the lives they impact and not for the monetary reward. From the fourth grade on, because of Miss Ash, I wanted to be a teacher just like her and she developed my love of history and the people who make it.

On the road of my education, there have been many teachers who stand out for the impact they made in my life’s choice, but Miss Alma Ash was the first and most important. The man I am today and the teacher I became can be traced to the loving work of Miss Alma Ash. I was fortunate enough as an adult to be able to thank her personally. To her, I was one of just many thousands of children she taught, but to me she was indispensable and unique.