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The Because Project: Governor Peter Shumlin

"I learned how to read because of a teacher named Claire Ogelsby."


On January 7, 2011, as I was sworn in as Vermont's 81st governor, I recalled my mom saying that, in my grade-school years, it seemed more likely that I would struggle to find a job than that I would run for office.

I was a kid who learned differently. In the second grade, I was called to the principal's office with my parents, where they were told what I already knew — that despite all their good efforts, my teachers could not teach me how to read. The prospects of my being a successful student and going to college were dim, they were told. That was not a great day.

Fortunately, I had one teacher who believed in me: Claire Ogelsby. She later became Vermont's teacher of the year. After a long day at school, Claire loaded me into her Willys Jeep and took me to her log cabin deep in the woods on Windmill Hill Road in Westminster West. In warm weather, we sat on her lawn; in cold weather, we huddled around the woodstove. There, slowly and creatively, she taught me how to read.

What I remember best about Claire was that no matter how difficult the challenge, no matter how innovative she had to be or how hard she had to work, she never gave up on me. Therefore, neither did I.

Though Claire passed away shortly before I became governor, I feel that she is always with me. Thanks to her belief in me, I learned to view my learning differences as strengths. Now, when I speak with others with learning difficulties, I let them know that with creativity and hard work, we can all overcome our challenges.

The Because Project asks Vermonters to share their stories about people and experiences that have shaped their lives, especially during their formative years — stories that may inspire others to get involved. Because together we can all make a difference.

The Vermont Children's Trust Foundation supports statewide prevention programs for children and families to help give all kids a fair chance at success.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.