Donna Vandiver, President & CEO
All of us can remember a teacher who made a difference in our lives. I listened to Stone Phillips (formerly of NBC’s Dateline and a Parkway West graduate) talk about Dr. Al Burr at a memorial service a few months ago. Along with many others at that service, he talked about how Dr. Burr changed his life.
He changed mine too, and that of my family, because he jumped in to help my brother who struggled with dyslexia that wasn’t properly diagnosed. We grew up in a rural area and at the time, people didn’t have a word or a diagnosis for children or adults who struggled with reading, or saw numbers backwards. Dr. Burr was a math teacher before becoming principal at Parkway Junior, Parkway High and Parkway West High School. He then went on to be principal of Clayton High School. He retired in 1991, and passed away in September. Hundreds of students felt the impact of his effort because he understood the needs of his students and was committed to helping them. He recognized that my brother had many gifts, including the ability to take apart an engine and put it back together again. Dr. Burr saw both academic gifts and non-academic gifts as important. It is teachers like Dr. Burr whose innovative teaching methods have made a lasting impact on the lives of their students.
A couple of weeks ago, Henry Winkler was on the CBS Sunday Morning news talking about his problems learning and about Hank Zipzer, the “world’s greatest underachiever.” Hank is the main character in his children’s books about dyslexia. Winkler says he was in the bottom 3% academically.
Who else might you know with dyslexia? I just read that list includes Jennifer Aniston, Steven Spielberg, Jay Leno, Kiera Knightley, Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover. Given what we now know, even Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison and Leonardo da Vinci, may well have had learning differences. While they saw the physical world differently, they are all considered some of the greatest visionary thinkers in history. These people did not let something like dyslexia dictate their future, or stop them from achieving greatness.
So, even though National Dyslexia Month isn’t until October, I’d like to take this Valentine’s Day to recognize my grandson’s first grade teacher, Ms. Colleen Haug, at Babler Elementary school. She not only genuinely cares about all of her students, she does something to make sure that each one has as good an experience as is possible, just like Dr. Burr did for my brother and so many others. So, hats off to Dr. Burr and Ms. Haug, and Happy Valentine’s Day to all of those teachers who take the time to make a difference in a child’s life.
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