|On site at PS163 supervising tutoring sessions with struggling first grade students
I saw the headline in The New York Teacher - A GOOD TEACHER NEVER STOPS LEARNING. It went on, "If you are a current, certified New York City teacher eager to expand your range of strategies used to teach reading and writing to young children with learning differences, come to Fordham to learn more about this funded program." These words caught my attention and I attended one of the Open Houses in February 2002 to learn more.
It was there that I first met Dr. Joanna Uhry. She was an established literacy expert, dedicated educator, published author, tireless researcher, and respected authority on dyslexia. I didn't know it at the time, but this brilliant woman would also become my champion, my mentor, and my friend.
|Together at a poster session for doctoral students
Dr. Uhry accepted me into the scholarship program. It offered two summer literacy institutes, classes in language and literacy development, assessment, and supervised one-to-one tutoring in an after school program. I became a licensed reading specialist due, in part, to the courses offered there. It was time to move on.
However, Dr. Uhry had other ideas. She thought I should enter the doctoral program. It wasn't something I had thought much about before she brought it up and I didn't know if I was up to the challenge. For one, I couldn't afford it. Dr. Uhry had that covered. She offered me a position as an adjunct professor. It would cover the tuition fees. I'd teach one course a semester and take one course a semester. She would guide and direct me through the daunting process of becoming Dr. Gary Wellbrock.
And she did just that! She was with me every step of the way. She served as the chair of my dissertation committee, meeting with me every week during the final months leading up to my defense. Her feedback along the way was impeccable and encouraging. Her interest in deaf education was motivating. I loved teaching this esteemed educator about my students, American Sign Language, and Deaf culture. Somehow, she made me feel as though we were on equal footing.
In 2015, I graduated. We had spent 12 years together, seeing one another at least once a week (for many years it was at least twice a week).
I adored her.
Today I received news of her passing. It hurts. It's a tremendous loss.
Dr. Uhry shaped the path of my life and I am proud to be part of her legacy. I suppose now the best way to honor her is to emulate her generosity. Strive to be a champion for other teachers and carry on in a way that would make her proud. And take comfort in the knowledge that when I do, I can imagine her looking at me with that friendly, amused smile.