Story Submitted by Vicki Bills
I was born to be a teacher. As a young child, I would put my stuffed animals in a row and teach them with a pencil in my hand. When my younger brother was able to sit, I put him in the class too. My older brother went to school. He had homework. He could read. He had books. I wanted that so much. One of my first teachers was at Sunday School and I loved her. She kept our attention while speaking so calmly. She also made a noise with her hands that calmed me and made me feel like she was great. I tried to make the sound myself, but nothing happened. Accidentally, I discovered the secret years later when I wore a ring. This noise was the sound of her pencil passing over her rings, an aha moment for me.
We would often pass by the local elementary school and I would get so excited about the mysteries that awaited me there. Finally, it was my turn to start school. Because this was way before backpacks were in style, we bought a little pink book bag with a pink umbrella attached. I put a few sheets of paper and a pencil inside and I was ready to go. I had looked forward to school for so long.
So, on the first day, Mom was surprised when I came home crying. While I don’t really remember the incident, Mom told it so often that it has become my memory too. Through the tears, I managed to say, “I didn’t learn to read today!” That’s how thirsty I was for school and education.
But reading came quickly from that first day. I learned to read from the Dick and Jane books, but that wasn’t my only reading. Every Saturday, we went to the public library where I would get the maximum of 10 books to read during the week. Sometimes I would read them all before we got home, but I still reread them. When Mom told the librarian how fast I read them, she moved me up a grade level each time until I was reading grade three books while in the first grade.
Mom was committed to educating her kids because she had stopped her education after eighth grade to go to work during the war. She used to tell me that they were saving for us to go to college. My dad, who completed high school at a prep school, was of the view that a girl didn’t need a college education because she would just get married and have babies.
My brothers and I did go to college. I graduated from UF in three years by going to school year-round. As fate would have it, I did get married and had a child, then a divorce. As a single mother, I was glad to have my own income from teaching. Later I remarried and had another child. Then I decided to get more education, a law degree, which I accomplished in two and a half years. Because of my teaching experience, I led a street law course at a local high school while I went to law school. Shortly after I graduated, my husband died of cancer and I was again a single parent, glad to have my income.
Education played a part of my job while I represented domestic violence victims at Bay Area Legal Services. I led group counseling for women contemplating leaving an abusive situation and another group for those in the divorce process. At community outreach events, I organized activities for children and teens.
When my parents moved to a facility for dementia, I volunteered to have programs for the residents, to enhance brain activity and keep them positive. They enjoyed the activities and were in better moods because of them.
Education began with my learning to read, then my teaching others about important life issues, then my broadening experiences for dementia patients. It has proven to be a gift I have used to improve my world.