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Anne Remis (left) with her lifelong friend, Winifred Fletcher
By Dennis Howard
Anne Remis was a very special kind of hero. She was both a woman and a member of the “greatest generation” who overcame severe difficulties of her own to bring hope to a whole new generation of children that far too many professionals had written off as “hopeless.”
Anne was one of those people who instinctively make lemonade when God gives them lemons. Whenever she ran into a major life obstacle, she transformed it into a precious opportunity.
She came of age early in the Great Depression and earned her B.S. in Education in 1935 by working her way through college the old-fashioned way. Her first teaching job was in a “one-room schoolhouse” in upstate New York that soon fell victim to regionalization.
Two years later, she began a 10-year-long battle with tuberculosis that might have defeated a less determined woman. She spent most of that time in the famous Trudeau Sanitorium where she met several European notables, including a Russian princess and members of the Czech government that fled Europe when Hitler invaded Prague at the onset of World War II.
She said of that time, “No doubt my years at Trudeau were deeply formative for the work I was eventually called to do. The wonderful care I received there . . . was something I could pass on to others as a teacher of children with disabilities.”
After the War, she got her Masters degree and plunged into a whole new career as a pioneer in the brand new field of special education. The story of those years is a precious piece of education history. It is a story that not just every “Special Ed” teacher needs to know, but every parent of a child with disabilities, and those with disabilities as well.
Anne tells her story in Miss Teach: Handwritten with Love, published by The Movement for a Better America, Mt. Freedom, NJ 07970-0472. The book has been called “a testament to the power of what one person can do to leave the world a better place for today’s children.”
Anne became one of the first teachers at the Edith Hartwell Clinic in Leroy, New York, a research center founded to develop methods to meet the needs of children with disabilities. At the time, there were few guidelines and no special equipment to assist special needs teachers.
This was long before the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, ADA, or other accommodations for persons with disabilities. Children receiving services in the late ‘40’s were either polio survivors with orthopedic problems or those attending special schools for the deaf and the blind. Early Special Ed teachers like Anne had to devise their own methods as they went along.
She used her ingenuity to innovate whatever was needed, and the results of her work can be seen in today’s advanced methods. Sophisticated electronic communications tools, for example, began with mechanical communications boards that Anne designed to give the disabled a way to communicate.
It was literally like taking down a wall that closed the disabled off from the rest of the world, much like the invention of Braille for the blind and sign language for the deaf.
Three years later she moved on to develop similar programs in the Rochester public schools, where she worked for 27 years. They were years were filled with experiences that Anne retells with verve and humor in her book.
Some are tragic, others full of hope, and many have amazing outcomes. All the stories confirm that no child should be left behind, least of all those with special needs and special gifts.
“Miss Teach” is more than a teacher’s memoir. It is a testament to the power of what one person can do to leave the world a better place. Ultimately, all of Anne’s achievements were personal in the difference she was able to make in the lives of her students. Some went on to successful careers in writing, social work, education, and marketing.
It is also an important piece of education history that should never be forgotten.
The book itself was written painstakingly over a period of three years. Anne would draft chapters in longhand on yellow, legal sized pads, and send them to her niece, Anne Howard, in New Jersey, to review and edit. She passed them on her husband, Dennis, a retired journalist and creative marketer. He recalls, “One day I realized that this could make a very publishable book that would inspire a lot of other people, including a new generation of teachers.”
So far, the book has been well received by parents and teachers of children with disabilities as well as by libraries in colleges with education programs. “Our goal is to encourage parents with disabled children as well as to inspire young teachers entering this difficult field,” Howard said.
The Howards' daughter, Elizabeth, who is a special education teacher in Colorado, wrote an introduction to the book. She wrote, “I remember the stories that I heard from my mother about Aunt Anne as I was growing up. Some of them no doubt sunk deep into my young brain and had at least some influence on my career choice."
Her experiences as a teacher confirm Anne Remis’ vision of how to build a better world. “Many students do not see much, if any, love and beauty in the world just outside their window. My job, and the job of all teachers, is to lift them up to see. Through the stories Anne Remis tells we see how her message of love and hope has transformed the lives of parents and children who bear the heavy burden of disability in a world that typically rewards its opposite.”
Elizabeth is not the only teacher in the family who was inspired by Anne Remis’ example. At last count, there are at least 14 teachers in the next two generations of the Remis family – nearly all inspired by stories about “Aunt Anne.”
Her spirit is captured best in a long-lost poem by Clare Tree Major that was written in the 1930’s and recalled from memory by Anne Remis as she closes out her book:
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.
Have you a word of hope for poor, blind, stumbling human kind? Give it not to intelligent, blundering man. Give it to the children.
(The full poem is quoted in the book.)
This is a book that will be enjoyed by parents, teachers, and students who want to remember where we came from in order to understand and appreciate the enormous progress that has been made in this important field and the challenges that remain.
As her lifelong friend Winifred Fletcher writes in the foreword: “Nothing can replace the value of a teacher’s honest dedication, diligence, and ingenuity in developing ever new ways to help children overcome handicaps and reach their full educational potential.”
‘Miss Teach’ is wonderful way to express one’s appreciation to both parents and teachers who dedicate their lives to making the world a better place for today’s children. It makes a perfect gift for Christmas, graduations or as a way to say thanks to someone special. Donations also help fund sending copies of the book to libraries in colleges with teachers' education programs.
Special Offer!Yours FREE with your donation of $12.00 or more to: The Movement for a Better America, Inc. PO Box 472 / Mt. Freedom, NJ 07970 Includes shipping & handling in the U.S. To order, just mail your donation to the address above today