Warp Drive

Thursday, January 28, 2021

My First Reading Tutor

I came into this life a destructive force of nature. I was, in my own way, ever curious about the world around me. I just failed to show it in an appropriate manner. Being the slow learner that I was, I would often paint my own version of reality based upon my then limited comprehension.

Needless to say, I learned a lot from the school system, but much of it took place outside the classroom; on the playgrounds, in the lunch rooms, in the offices. It was the people, not the curriculum, that truly mattered. I came to the realization that I was not alone. There were students with far worse disabilities than my own, and there were staff members that legitimately cared for each and every one of them.

It was a treasure trove of experiences, and at the end of the day, it matters not if they were good or bad ones. All that remains to be seen is whether or not something was learned from them. Life, itself, is an institution for learning. The ultimate school system. We pass on what we learn, and what we pass on gives others reason to learn.

Diane Stepnitz

Diane Stepnitz was one such staff member - one such teacher - who made a real difference. Upon my dismissal from Murphy Ranch Elementary in the fall of 1991, by far my shortest school enrollment, I began attending Barbara Dawson Educational Center. I was placed with a small group of other students in room number eleven. It was here in which I would finally learn to read and write.
"Michael was transferred from Murphy Ranch School due to behavioral problems and has been attending Barbara Dawson School since October 7th, 1991." -Clinical Assessment
"Michael shows a high level of anxiety for future events. Also, he perseverates on unanswerable questions and if not satisfied with the answer begins hand wringing and rocking. He displays control and anxiety issues with food. Touching food and utensils with few fingers as possible and not letting food touch his lips. He says food makes him sick and he will vomit. Michael uses question asking to avoid tasks, however, despite resistance, he is making progress in all academic areas. He retreats into fantasy through drawing and construction of buildings." -Diane Stepnitz
I have Diane to thank for her encouragement, persistence and rather unique approach to instruction. She often read books to the class while they sat quietly on the floor, and in the process, she would take the time to connect with them. At the end of each story, she asked the class questions about the story she had just read.

Diane and I (Valentine's Day, 1992)

My Class Journal

One particular book reading session focused on non-linear progression. Diane would come to a critical juncture in the book's story and the students would be faced with two or sometimes three choices. Each choice had a page number written beside it. Diane would then turn to the page of our choosing to continue with the story. A "choose your own adventure" story in a world filled with stories fixed in stone.
"Michael looks for logic and "reasons" in all areas. His questions are always, "But why?" "What came before, what came after and why?" Things must flow in a logical sequence in order for Michael to fuction. When they do not, he becomes frustrated, disoriented and non-compliant. Transition is difficult for Michael. His overall anxiety level has decreased and his task avoidance has, for the most part, been eliminated. His question asking, although persistent, is far more appropriate. He rarely retreats into fantasy in the classroom. Michael still displays control and anxiety issues with food, but will eat when sitting next to the teacher." -Diane Stepnitz
"Michael's written language skills are significantly delayed. He is however a fairly imaginative story writer." -Diane Stepnitz
My mind was suddenly set ablaze. It would be quite a number of years still before I could write well, but Diane helped lay the foundation. I gradually became more proficient with practice of my own. My enrollment at Barbara Dawson Educational Center would eventually become less and less tolerable. When Diane accepted a job in the front office, I was transferred to another class. Everything went downhill soon thereafter and my parents ultimately decided to pull me out of the school over a dispute with my replacement teacher. But that is another story.

Diane's Class (1992)

Diane Stepnitz Speech (June 21st, 1996)
"Once upon a time there was a space shuttle that flew through space. The space shuttle had wings and the space shuttle had missiles. The moon was a city. Pluto was a village. Jupiter was an ocean. The space shuttle landed on the moon. The people got out of the space shuttle and went to the aliens and visited. The people had fun with the aliens and decided to stay with the aliens so the people did. Then the aliens went and took the space shuttle and took off and the aliens went to Pluto and got out of the space shuttle and the aliens went to the village and visited the space people. The aliens decided to stay so the space people took the space shuttle and took off. The space people went to Jupiter and visited the ocean and so the fish and decided to stay so everybody went to a new place and liked it." -My Class Journal
"Michael was observed during a reading group that was held outdoors. Michael's teacher was reading to the students. Michael sat quietly and appeared attentive. He participated in the discussion of the book. He did not present any behavioral problems during the class observation. Mrs. Stepnitz, Michael's teacher, stated that Michael is not a behavioral problem in class. Mrs. Stepnitz displayed a picture colored by Michael of his best friend in school. School staff report that Michael has quickly settled into the school after difficulty adjusting initially."
-Clinical Assessment
"Michael seems to be adjusting well to his school environment, has begun to relate to his peers in group counseling and appears to be engaged with me as his counselor. Michael enjoys fantasizing, especially about his 'imaginary friend' and needs encouragement to speak in the 'here and now.'"
-Diana Little (Room 33B Counselor)
"Michael has been helping me tutor other students in math. He is really very good and can make it fun for the other student. He is doing very well - I feel like we've come a long way." -Diane Stepnitz
"Michael, you are very special to me. You were in the first class I ever taught. I'm so proud of you! Stay good, remember to try hard." -Diane Stepnitz
Further Reading:
Nintendo Rhapsody, Chapter 2: Back in the Cradle
Nintendo Rhapsody, Chapter 3: Genesis
Nintendo Rhapsody, Chapter 4: Trial Separation
Nintendo Rhapsody, Chapter 6: It's About Time

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