Teach’: A Memoir Handwritten with Love
offers readers an open classroom window into the beginnings of special
education in Rochester, NY. Through the eyes and insights of one pioneer
teacher, readers will gain a unique perspective of the life force behind
special education, a field little more than 50 years old.
Valentine’s Day, 1949, Miss Anne I. Remis arrived on the doorstep of the Edith
Hartwell Clinic in Leroy, NY, with a mandate to develop an elementary school
class for the clinic’s 30 children with multiple disabilities.
no models after which to fashion her class and armed with little more than a
Master’s degree in Education and a teacher’s tote of tricks, Miss Remis barely
knew where to begin that first day. Then, she spotted a flock of cardinals
perched on the snowy branches of a tree outside her classroom window. Seizing
the magic of the moment – her future signature approach to teaching – she set
out to help her students experience this beautiful gift of nature.
students were thrilled with this introduction to learning and to their new
teacher. However, the nature lesson led to an unexpected predicament for the
teacher. After viewing the birds through the window, all four students ended up
lying immobile on their backs on the floor, desperately needing to be lifted
and strapped back into their wheelchairs!
quandary would probably have disheartened many novice teachers, but the children’s
laughter and excitement only spurred on Miss Remis. Her first lesson taught her
that in her classroom, she would be as much of a learner as her students were.
Hartwell Clinic to Rochester Public School #5 and, still later, to Public
School #29, Miss Remis used imagination and creativity to develop diverse
teaching methods that would expose her students to countless educational
experiences and facilitate attendant learnings. Devising ways to reach each
child was frequently as challenging an assignment as inventing the wheel, but
successive generations of students have benefited from her ingenuity.
special education to succeed, school furniture had to be built and adapted to
accommodate differently-sized wheelchairs and students’ assorted physical
needs. Instructional materials that catered to unmet learning challenges had to
be invented, standardized, and made more readily available. Special education
classrooms required novel assistive devices such as communication boards, book
holders, and electric typewriters. Parents and various community members needed
to be recruited as volunteers to provide extra tutoring. From all these
requisites grew a special education community with strong, cooperative bonds
among parents, teachers, and students with special needs.
the innovations, Miss Remis’ love for learning, her respect for the dignity of
each child, and her patience and perseverance in discovering each student’s
hidden potential remained constant throughout her 29-year career.
These principles, which
lie at the very heart of Miss Remis’ success in educating children with
multiple disabilities, radiate in her recollections of the struggles and joys
associated with her teaching career. Her stories will no doubt serve as
examples for today’s parents and teachers, inspiring those who work with
children with disabilities to maintain hope even when despair appears
inevitable. Her life is a witness to the power of what one person can do to
leave the world a better place for today’s children.
As Miss Remis believes,
every child has hidden potential that, given love, patience, and the guidance
of a good teacher, will ultimately be unearthed and nurtured, providing the
child with a door to success.
should know as I was one of those taught with her love.
Ann E. Kurzwas a student of Miss Remis
from Fall 1970 to Spring 1973. She graduated from Trinity College in
Washington, DC, and received a Master’s degree in Computers in Education from
the University of Rochester. She is now a marketing research analyst at
Wegmans’ Food Markets and serves on the board of CP Rochester, a non-profit
organization connecting people with disabilities to their community. All
royalties from ‘Miss Teach’ go to CP Rochester.
The Story behind Miss Teach
interview with Anne I. Remis by Mehroo Siddiqui
What inspired you to write this memoir?
I always enjoyed telling
stories. I guess it was part of what attracted me to teaching. When I told
friends the stories of my experiences as a teacher, I often got the response,
“You ought to write those things down.” So after I retired I dreamed of
gathering them all into a book. However, I also wanted people to understand how
we got to where we are today, and that all our new technology didn’t just
happen. It came as a result of the hard work and dedication of those who went
before us. In addition, technology may change, but the basics of good teaching
Q.Was there ever a point, while you were writing,
when you felt you couldn’t go on?
No, but there were times when
I was impatient with the people who were trying to help me get the book done. I
didn’t realize all the complexities involved in producing a book, but thank the
Lord they were there to help me or the book would never have been finished. The
writing was fairly easy. It was the rest I didn’t understand.
Q. What kind of a writing
schedule did you follow? How long did it take you to complete the book?
I tried to keep my stories
short and to the point. In fact, it probably could have been expanded to twice
the length. While I was writing, I wrote continuously for two hours a day, and
it would take about 3 weeks to finish each section. I wrote in long hand, which
is why it was subtitled – “Handwriten with Love.” Then my script had to be
deciphered and transcribed and edited by a very talented niece. Of course, she
and her husband also had other things to do, so it took a couple of years to
complete the whole thing. Writing is like knitting. You just keep going until
it’s done, and make sure you don’t drop any stitches.
Tell us a little about the book, which part you like the most in it, why?
The stories about the
children were the most fun to do because they are all still so fresh in my
mind. That made them easy to write. They were the truth, the life, and the
reason for the book. In a sense, the book is about what the children taught me.
That’s why I ended the book with the poem by Clare Tree Major, which reads,
“Would you set your name among the stars? Then write it large upon the hearts
of children. They will remember. Have you visions of a finer, happier world?
Tell the children. They will build it for you.”
Q. Tell us also
about your experience as a first-time writer. And are you planning to write
I never thought of myself as
a first time writer. People think a writer is a special kind of person.
Personally, I think every person has the ability to be a special kind of
writer. We all have interesting stories to tell. All I did was tell mine in a
way that was interesting. Yes, I’d like to write another book about all the
changes in the way people live. We have more things than ever before, but
things are not any easier at home, in school, on the streets, or the world of
work. We’re in danger of forgetting what makes us human. However, at 90 plus
years and with all the help I would need, I’m not sure my friends could put up
with me doing another book.
Did you find writing about your teaching experiences more difficult than
Well, a good teacher
must first be a good communicator, so I just wrote the way I would have given a
classroom lesson or told a story. You can tell by the stories in the book that
writing about them was a lot easier than living them. I wrote comfortably with
only a pencil, paper, and a dictionary. No reference books. I wrote as if talking
to a group of people.
Q. What was your goal when
you decided to write your memoirs? What kind of a response did you hope for and
what kind did you get?
I hoped readers would
appreciate that children with handicaps have always been “special,” and that
teaching them is not a brand, new field, and that it grew as the result of
dedicated, creative teachers just like those who teach the handicapped today.
The only difference is that we had to invent our own methods and tools.
I am happy to say the book
has gotten a wonderful response both from many of my former students and their
families, as well as from families and teachers of children with disabilities
today. In less than a year, we’ve shipped almost 1,000 copies. Some people
thought we would be crazy to print more than 200 copies. Now we have 3,000 more
to go before the first printing is sold. We may have been over-optimistic about
the book, but there are cost factors, too.
How did you find a publisher for your book? Did you have an agent?
I was lucky in that my niece,
who helped me put the manuscript together, was married to a man who had more
than 50 years experience in magazine and newspaper publishing, as well as the
creative marketing side of the advertising business. He kept putting his two
cents in about the book, and before you know it, he became my editor, designer,
agent, and publisher all rolled into one.
He also ran a non-profit
organization that was interested in publishing books that met its objectives,
so they agreed to publish the book. Then we worked out an approach so that the
royalties would go to my favorite charity, CP Rochester, an organization that
serves disabled children. It worked out well all around.
It sure beat the
alternatives, including the long process of writing a book proposal, finding an
agent and then a publisher who would take it on, or a vanity publisher. At my
age, I didn’t have time for all that. God was smiling on me, I guess.
Q. Ann Kurz writes
in her review of your book that your first lesson taught you that you would
have to be as much a learner as your students. What are some of the most
important things you learned from writing this memoir?
As I wrote in the book, there
are times when your most elaborate and well-researched lesson plan has to be
put aside because you are faced with an opportunity to help six children in
wheelchairs or on crutches experience the beauty of seeing six birds in a
snow-covered tree. Teachers have to be open to such opportunities every day, so
do the rest of us.
We never stop learning. We
always have to remain open to those serendipitous moments that make life
easier, more productive, and rewarding.
An interview with Dennis Howard, president of the Movement for a Better
by Mehroo Siddiqui
What was it about Ms. Remis’s book that caught your attention? And what made
you want to publish it?
As the manuscript developed,
my wife Anne kept telling me about the project. The realization slowly grew
that this could be more than just a personal memoir. I could also see that there were certain gaps to be filled before
it could make a salable book. The first and last chapters were among these.
Ms. Remis also managed to
come up with some great photographs that gave us a very nice picture section. I
have Pagemaker software on my computer, and the book slowly took shape.
Then I ran into an old high school
friend who had published over 500 books in a long career. Although
it wasn’t his kind of book, he gave me some excellent advice on publishing
details and recommended a couple of printers we could talk to. As a byproduct of the book run, we were also able to
get an attractive 4-color promotion piece done on the same press run as the
cover. So that cut our promotion costs.
Q. Were there any special
challenges or benefits working with a writer who was writing for the first time?
No. Not if the writer is willing to listen to his or her editor and has a good story to tell
that meets the publishing objectives. When I was a magazine editor, I
learned that there are four kinds of writers. Most have nothing
to say and say it poorly. There is another 5 per cent
with nothing to say who say it beautifully. Then there are maybe 3 per cent with something to say but not a clue in the
world as to how to say it. And finally there is the top 2 per cent with something to
say who say it well. Like the good
teacher she is, Miss Remis was very teachable.
Q. What should prospective authors know before approaching you?
First, the Movement for a
Better America is a non-profit educational organization, not a commercial
publisher, so we are only interested in projects that are related to our
educational purposes. These are promoting traditional family values and a
pro-life, pro-family point of view. We were interested in Ms. Remis story as an
example of what one person can do to leave America a better place for the next
Also, we can only
undertake projects for which we can find funding. Check out our website to get an idea of what might interest us.
If you have an idea for a project that would fit our needs, contact us with a proposal. We are always interested in hearing from talented people who share our commitments.
Q. What advice
would you give writers who want to get published?
I think it was Edison who
said, “Genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.” That certainly applies
to any major writing project. Nobody is going to publish your book because they
like your looks. It takes sweat equity. If you believe strongly
enough in your idea, you will write it. My son just finished writing what I
believe is a powerful first novel, but it is not our kind of book, so the next
step for him is finding a publisher or an agent who believes in his book as
much as he does. That’s not easy, but remember that all you need is one
publisher to say yes.
My favorite story is about a writer who kept taking
creative writing courses. Nothing her teacher could say to her would
discourage her. She was also a housewife with four kids at home and became
worried that she might be wasting her time and money. She finally asked him,
“Is it time I gave up?”
He was finally able to tell her what he didn’t have the courage to tell
her before. “I hate to say this, Mrs. O’Connor, but yes, I think it is time to
A year later, she won a $25,000 first prize in a novel
contest. Needless to say, he never again told any writer to give up.
What sort of a response has this memoir received?
The response has
been heartwarming, especially from young or aspiring teachers, as well as
families of children with disabilities. We have also gotten a good response from homeschoolers who face the same problems Anne Remis faced when she was starting out. We are now trying new ways to make people aware of the book through channels like Facebook and Twitter. We're also interested in doing talk radio interviews about Miss Remis and the book. She certainly qualifie as one of the most interesting people I have ever met.
Unfortunately, we don’t have lots of
money to promote it, but it has already sold four times as many
copies as the pessimists thought it would. It is also the story of a young woman who survived the Great Depression despite terrible setbacks. In that sense, it is a very timely story about human hope, dedication, and courage. We very much need the example of people like Anne Remis today.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with
this was our first book, it was very much like a self-publishing venture – in
other words, a learning experience. It helps to know publication design and printing production, have some
background in editing and marketing and a sense for what makes a good
book. Add to that all the help and advice you can get from people who know the
field, and there is no reason why more young writers can't self-publish. It beats wasting three or four years trying to find a publisher. It also helped to be working with someone like Anne. She was one of those great women who wouldn't take "no" for an answer.
Of course, the
old “garbage in, garbage out” rule applies. If you hand any printer a piece of
junk, he’ll be just as happy to print it for you as he would if you handed
him a masterpiece. The
devil is in the details. A simple matter like not having a good place to store your inventory can be costly if the book doesn’t sell.
Getting distribution through major book chains and wholesalers
is a big hurdle, too. Then there is the risk of returns, which are
customary in the book trade. If you don’t have solutions to these problems, your book could be a financial flop no matter how well
written it is.