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Tue, Jan. 21

Commentary: Second-grade teacher stands the test of time

OK, now it’s my turn.

With all these “favorite teacher” stories I’ve read during this celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, I couldn’t help but think back on the teachers I had that shaped and influenced my life.

I had a slew of “favorite” teachers growing up. So many, in fact, that I’m not sure I could pin one down as my favorite all-time teacher.

There was an Irishman named O’Connell when I was in high school. He always used to pull me aside and say, “Son, you should be a writer!” There was this slave-driver at NAU named Dave Bennett who got my attention by practicing what he preached: He regularly freelanced stories to the Arizona Daily Sun. And to this day, I still subscribe to the old George Young mantra that the process dictates the results. Don’t worry about the results. Just stay loyal to the process.

But the fondest memory I have of any school teacher dates all the way back to second grade. Her name was Miss Sciamanna.

I was a stutterer. As a result, I was terrified to read in front of other kids. In both first- and second-grade, I had perfected my reading circle avoidance technique. I would ask permission to go to the restroom when there were about 2 or 3 kids ahead of me in the reading circle lineup. Once out of the classroom, I would time my return so that I would escape the terror of having to read in front of my classmates.

It worked more often than not, but still there were times when I had no choice and the results were disastrous and embarrassing.

That was until one day when Miss Sciamanna asked me to help her with a project during recess. Then, she asked me to read to her. Just me and her. One on one. I don’t know how long it took, but I eventually was able to read to her with decent diction and clarity.

The next step in the process involved an invitation to one of my classmates to join me during these private reading sessions. Before I knew it, I could read stutter-free to Miss Sciamanna and 2-3 other kids. Soon afterward, I was doing it in front of the whole class.

This was in the early ‘60s, long before schools employed speech therapists and other educational specialists. I don’t know if hers was a time-tested technique or if she was just operating on a hunch. All I know is that by the time I got out of second grade, I didn’t stutter any more. I’ve always believed she cured me with a lot of patience, a warm smile and a lot of love.

Unfortunately, I never got to thank her. A year later, I was going to a different school, bused to a different part of town with newfound confidence and an eager desire to read and be called on in class. I never saw Miss Sciamanna again.

But I will never forget her.

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