When Anne Fleming started teaching as a reading specialist fifty years ago, there were no interactive Smart Boards to colorfully display pages of books on a larger than life screen, there was no Google to immediately satisfy curiosities and there weren’t different levels of reading ability, tailored to each child’s specific needs. There were teachers, students and books—and Fleming couldn’t have been happier or felt more at home.
Fleming grew up in Woodbridge and attended Amity High School before attending Our Lady of the Elms College in Chicopee, Mass., where she was an English major with a minor in elementary education. “I loved English and I knew I wanted to teach,” Fleming says. “I wanted to help children meet their potential to read.”
At 21-years-old, she took a job as a reading teacher at Mary L. Tracy School, which was then the town’s elementary school. “It was a simpler time and a different environment in which children learned. There was not as much testing, not as much data collection. It seems that things are now returning to as it should be,” Fleming says.
Three years later after starting at MLT, Peck Place School opened and Fleming joined the staff there as a reading consultant, a position she still holds today. Day-to-day, Fleming coaches teachers, directs Tier 3 reading instruction, guides professional development and consults with special education staff. “I work with students, giving that extra jolt to children who need additional support with reading,” she says. “The most important part of my job is to try to win young readers over and get them to like reading. When that happens, they feel good and I feel fabulous,” she says.
Technology, according to Fleming, has brought the single largest change to her profession, and though she was hesitant at first and is admittedly still sometimes stumped by it, she now embraces the opportunities it brings. “The younger teachers help me with technology and I help them with reading,” she jokes. With all of the new opportunities that technology has brought to teaching, Fleming holds strongly to the basics. “Technology opens doors to research projects and an additional level of learning, but we have to remember the fundamentals—the alphabet and the alphabetic code,” she says.
For 50 years, she has taught thousands of students the basics of learning to read. She teaches children of former students and says she loves to be a piece of the family’s history. “I love the connection that I have with families that I taught years ago, and now I’m teaching their children,” she says.
She also works alongside a former student, Peck Place Teacher Tricia Lasto. “This woman continues to impress me,” Lasto said. “I learned from her as a kid and now I’m still learning from her as a teacher.”
When changes in leadership were happening at Peck Place School a number of years ago, Fleming said she considered what would have been the next logical step in her profession: becoming a principal. “Many people told me I should apply for the principal position, but I did not feel it was the right time. Things happen for a reason and they happen for the best and it was best that I stay here.”
She has not regretted that decision. “There is such a feeling of excellence here at Peck Place School. There is a culture to strive for excellence and a spirit that may wane, but never dies. The children have such a zest for life and have such great potential,” she says. Fleming has a knack for bringing that potential to fruition. “I have been very fortunate to have this experience,” she says fondly, adding that she has no plans to retire any time soon.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent